'Happy Gas': Sarah Lucas at Tate Britain

This 'vindaloo of sculpture, photography and text' makes for a 'grubbily fascinating' exhibition

Sarah Lucas poses next to her concrete marrow sculptures called 'Kevin and Florian', outside Tate Britain
'Happy Gas' showcases Sarah Lucas's career from 1991 to the present
(Image credit: Daniel Leal / Getty Images)

Sarah Lucas, now 60, is "one of the most enduring of the Young British Artists" of the 1990s, said Ben Luke in the Evening Standard. Lucas was slower than many of her fellow YBAs to make her mark, but she has gone from strength to strength in the decades since. Her photographs and sculptures – uncanny, surreal, often made out of found objects – place her in a European absurdist tradition, but they also display a "cackling Britishness". 

This "fantastic" new exhibition covers her career from 1991 to the present day with "typical" irreverence. Although nominally a retrospective, it omits many of her most famous works: for instance, there's no "Two Fried Eggs and Kebab" (1992), slapped on a table to form a "sardonic" nude. The exhibition's "guiding motif" is chairs, often sat upon by human-like figures made out of stuffed, bulging tights. It is "an intoxicated – and intoxicating – show" that proves Lucas is "an artist at the height of her powers". 

There are "gigantic resin sandwiches, big as king-sized beds and with dubious Spam-like fillings", said Adrian Searle in The Guardian. There's a burnt-out Jaguar covered in cigarettes; "raw chicken underwear"; and "photos of the artist on the lavvy". "Happy Gas" is "a wonderfully theatrical and surprising" show. Lucas's "boozy, laddish" sense of humour is inescapable here, said En Liang Khong in The Daily Telegraph. In "The Old Couple" (1991), "false dentures and a wax dildo perch on a pair of rickety chairs". You can see plaster casts of the artist's close friends, complete with cigarettes "jammed up their orifices". Sometimes, her "scuzzy wit" translates into something "genuinely disturbing": for "Bunny" (1997), for instance, she packed a pair of pantyhose with stuffing until the "seams stretched" and the material took on "the texture of mottled flesh". Elsewhere, however, it just looks crass. At one point we see a huge photo of the artist holding "a raw plucked chicken" over her groin; another work involves a cigar and a pair of walnuts placed atop a "glowing" toilet bowl. "Geddit?" Frankly, many works here are "as funny as lead" and "about as rebellious as paper doilies". 

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"It is what it is, and it isn't Frans Hals," said Laura Freeman in The Times. If you're "offended by boobs, gussets and wanking, don't go to 'Happy Gas'". But it's an evocative "slice of 1990s life". Lucas is entertainingly "puerile": "Five Lists" (1991), for example, is simply a taxonomically complete litany of insults. Yet she is capable of sophistication, too: her pantyhose sculptures, a dozen of which feature here, are "stirring, affecting, poignant even". They are unsettlingly lifelike – indeed, "it's as if Picasso's 'Demoiselles d'Avignon' had escaped the frame and gone on a Blackpool hen-do". Love Lucas or loathe her, the "vindaloo of sculpture, photography and text" on display here makes for a "grubbily fascinating" exhibition.

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